The Cupertino-based tech giant may be pumping the brakes on its long-rumored Apple AR headset, something that was reportedly slated to see a release as early as 2020. A DigiTimes Taiwan report (via MacRumors) now suggests that Apple has disbanded the team behind it, effectively putting its consumer AR device on hold.
DigiTimes cites “people familiar with the situation,” saying that the team was disbanded back in May, and its members reassigned to other divisions within the company.
The reason, the Chinese language report maintains, is owed to Apple’s inability to make the device lightweight enough, include 5G networking, and offer a mature library of content.
DigiTimes primarily reports Apple info based on sources in the company’s supply chain; the report’s claims are unsubstantiated and will likely remain that way knowing their penchant for never commenting on in-development products.
If you can believe the news, it likely signifies a suspension of Apple’s AR headset ambitions for the near-term; it’s clear they definitely haven’t shelved AR R&D altogether. Apple continuously advertises a number of job positions dealing with AR software and hardware. At three successive WWDC dev conferences, the company has also showcased iterative versions of ARKit, the iOS-based augmented reality developer tool.
The latest version, ARKit 3, brings a number of key technologies to AR developers including people occlusion, multiple face-tracking, and motion capture with a single camera—technologies that will not only be important to making the AR experience more useful and fluid for smartphone-based AR users now, but fundamentally seeds the developer community with the basic hardware and software to create the sort of apps that may one day run on an official Apple AR headset.
And as a consumer-oriented company, Apple doesn’t typically launch expensive developer hardware like how Microsoft and Magic Leap have done with their respective headsets, the HoloLens 1 & 2 and Magic Leap One. When a hypothetical Apple AR headset does come, you can bet the company will want to be the leader of a consumer product segment, and not a manufacturer catering to developers and enterprise customers with deep enough pockets.
CEO Tim Cook told The Independent in late 2017 that the company doesn’t intend on being first to offer a consumer AR headset anyway.
“We don’t give a rat’s about being first, we want to be the best, and give people a great experience. But now anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with. Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied.”
The DigiTimes report comes in the wake of the departure of high-profile hardware designer Jony Ive, who left the company to start his own design firm, LoveFrom. As Apple’s chief design officer, Ive is best known for his work on many of the company’s most defining products such as the original iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air, and Apple Watch.
Notably, HoloLens co-inventor and Apple’s senior manager of prototype development Avi Bar-Zeev also left the company earlier this year.